Pico's Cycling - Tales of the Road is an online cycling magazine. It is intended for writers and riders who want to share their on the road cycling stories and pictures. Submissions that follow our guideline are gratefully appreciated. See the appropriate page in the site menu. Will publish the best of the best each month. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @PicosCycling.

Friday, 31 October 2014

I Knew I Wanted To Do Something Different



By Jack Hawkins
Photos: Shirine Taylor

At the time of our interview, Shirine Taylor was cycling in the far Western reaches of Nepal, Now, after sixteen months on the road, Shirine and her boyfriend Kevin, are now cycling in Georgia, in Eastern Europe, and will be leaving Europe to cycle the Andes in South America very soon! Follow her journey on her website. She takes some pretty amazing photographs and publishes thought-provoking and interesting blog posts.
*                    *                    *

I first became interested in Shirine’s story several months ago, as I was searching for-round-the-world cyclists, and her blog came up. I was intrigued and amazed at how a young woman of just twenty - when most would be sat in classrooms or university lecture halls, decides to up and begin an epic cycling journey around the world.

Shirine has been cycling between the Indian Himalayans and Nepal since July of 2013. She sought to escape from the ‘ordinary’ path that one follows in one’s life - graduation from high school, go to college/university, graduate - get a job, buy a house, get married, etc… And so, she bought a bicycle and set off to cycle around the world.

Shirine spent much of her early life travelling back and forth from Sudbury, Ontario, to Europe, New Zealand and Israel, as her father often travelled overseas for work. Then, at age sixteen, Shirine was given the opportunity to go on a year-long school exchange trip to Belgium. That year away from home, in a whole other country, speaking a whole other language was all it took to light the fire within her for travel and a yearning to see the world.

Immediately after she graduated, Shirine purchased a one-way ticket to South America, and spent a year backpacking around South America, working with monkeys in jungles, and experiencing new cultures, countries and languages.
Shirine and her guide 6000 metres up a snowy peak in Peru.
But Shirine was far from done with seeing the world…

“This time, I knew I wanted to do something different, something with more purpose and more independence, more of a way to see the locals. Not just tourist attractions, as I’d done the touristy-thing a lot in Belgium.” She knew she wanted to do something different, now all Shirine needed was a mode of transport…

“The cycling just came up from reading other people’s blogs, and I figured if they can do it, then so can I!”

Shirine says that she drew inspiration from people like Friedel and Andrew Grant - “The Travelling Two” - two round-the-world cyclists from Canada, and Alastair Humphreys, an English round-the-world cyclist, adventurer and author. She did her research, too.

“I would just type in, ‘cycling around the world’ into Google, and I wouldn’t even read their stories, I would just read the “Trip” and “About” sections, and I just kinda figured that people actually do cycle around the world.” On top of her research about bike touring, Shirine spent hours researching what type of touring bicycle to buy, and eventually settled on the world-famous touring bicycle - the Surly Long Haul Trucker.
Shirine's steed - a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
Shirine had no previous experience with bike touring, and so she set off from Canada to cycle to Mexico down the Pacific Coast of the United States, a journey of 2900 kilometers, as a “warm up” for her round-the-world ride. Other than her Pacific Coast bike tour, Shirine didn’t really plan much of her round-the-world ride at all.

“You don’t need to plan. Like, even now, starting out again, I wouldn’t plan anything more. You really don’t need to at all. It is better unplanned.” And so, sans-plan, Shirine left her home in Bend, Oregon, in July of 2013, and flew to India, where she would begin her remarkable journey.

In order to fund her round-the-world bike trip, Shirine worked as a babysitter. “So, I wasn’t making much, I was making you know - ten bucks an hour. But I was living really cheap, living in a cheap apartment, only cooking for myself, I don’t go out, I don’t drink - all of my money was going towards saving for this trip.” She was going through a Nursing programme at the time to get her degree in that field, but has now put that on hold indefinitely, in favour of a life of constant adventure and a constantly changing environment. She’s been living on-the-cheap constantly, even as she cycles around the world. Living on an average budget of around five dollars a day...

“Five dollars a day looks like cheap guesthouses - like the one I’m in now, with leaky-plumbing bathrooms. A lot of camping in your tent. In third-world countries like this, you can often afford guesthouses, because they’re often only a dollar or two per-night. It’s a lot of cooking for yourself, or eating at cheap, local restaurants - which are also only a dollar, a dollar-fifty for an all-you-can-eat meal. I don’t go to touristy restaurants, I’m not buying special coffee or anything. But once I get into Europe, it’s going to be tent-camping only. Unless I stay with families.”

Shirine’s budget will increase as she goes West, but for now, she’s living on an average of five dollars a day in Nepal. And, with only living on such a small amount a day, being brought into homes by welcoming families in the area, comes some very strange meals..

“All they have in Nepal is rice and dahl, which are like lentils. And I eat that - every single meal. Like, I’ve gone months without eating anything else besides that. The weirdest thing I’ve eaten - and it wasn’t something I liked, but it’s something that they drink a lot of in India. It’s what they have up in the mountains, and it’s a tea. Kinda like what they call a chai tea - so it’s a milk tea. But up there they call it “ghee”. It’s made from a special kind of butter - it’s very strong, it doesn’t taste like our butter. And then they put it in your drink, and then you have this buttery, salted sweet tea. It’s really weird, and it’s really strong and it’s really heavy. It’s supposed to keep you warm, and it definitely does, and it adds fat to you, but it’s definitely not my favourite food.”

On the opposite side of the same coin, Shirine reflected on what her best culinary experience has been thus far. This culinary delight came from Western Nepal, as she was staying with a family.

“It always had a base of rice and dahl, and it always had different curried vegetables, and it always had a different sauce. My favourite dish they ever served me was actually a dessert. It was rice, with brown sugar and ghee, and it was all melted together in this amazing dessert. That was, by far, the best thing I’ve ever eaten here.”

It’s not just the food that Shirine has found both challenging and delightful. She’s learned a lot about herself and the world around her, too. Shirine now has a greater appreciation of where she comes from, and - although she has only seen two of the world’s many countries, Shirine has learned quite a lot - both the good, and the bad.

“It goes kinda two ways for me. So, like, in the States when I was cycling, within the first day, I was like, ‘Oh my God, the world is an amazing place!' People would help me, people would take me in, I had someone buy bike tyres for me, buy bike gear for me, take me out to lunch… I mean, everyone wants to help you, and it was crazy! It was unusual a bit - how differently people treat you. But then, in India, I saw a different side of the world. Although I did have a lot of amazing homestays, and I did have people help me, there’s also a very male-oriented culture there. So I think I’ve seen the best of the world, and the worst of the world in terms of people. And I think the thing I’ve learnt most is just how different our world is. And not just the cultures, or traditions, or, you know - food. But also, the literal moral being of humans seems so different in these different parts of the World.” She says that while being half a world away from the experience that she had in the United States, India was by far the most unique culture that she’s experienced on her journey.
Shirine in traditional dress in India
“Everyone says that it’s crazy - and it is. There’s really no way to describe it, it’s so loud and there’s just so many people! The overpopulation is just scary. You never have a moment alone. As I was cycling, I’d go through a Buddhist area that was super nice in the mountains - totally calm and the people were amazing. And then you’d hit a Hindu area that was vicious and hard, and then a Muslim area, and then you’d go through a Sikh area, it was just how the religions and cultures changed so quickly throughout the place makes it pretty chaotic.” In a similar vein, Shirine reflected on her encounters with men in India. “In India, the men were the most challenging part - I kept getting harassed by men, I was throwing rocks at them constantly, just to get them to stop grabbing me.”

Despite the challenges throughout India, the northern part of the country has been her favourite thus far, particularly the northern region of Ladakh, which has been tough hiking - with passes over 5,000 meters high! “Northern India was really diverse, but particularly the Himalayan region - that was favourite so far.”
The Himalayan Mountains in Nepal.
Throughout her travels, Shirine has never had a moment alone in some countries, she’s had everyone from the village staring at her from their mud-hut rooftops - because they’ve never seen a white person before, much less a cyclist! The approach-ability of people in these remote regions came as a surprise, and their openness and kindness allowed Shirine the opportunity to bond really well with the families that she encountered - in both India and Nepal, as they often welcomed her to stay in their homes for a few days. Her best homestay, she says, was in far Western Nepal.

“My best homestay was in far Western Nepal, which is a totally undeveloped region, they'd never seen tourists before. It’s not at all like the rest of Nepal, and I ended up kinda hiking out there just to see what was out there, and the people would run away from me, because they’d never seen such white skin before. It was like a totally alien experience. But then I ended up sitting down near some people making sugar out of this big huge steaming cauldron, and they gave me some in a leaf. And then they gradually kind of invited me in, and then I ended up staying a few nights with them. And that village was probably the coolest one I've seen, ‘cause it was totally rural, there was no plastic, there was nothing man-made. It was little mud huts for housing, they didn't have electricity or water. It was very different lifestyle than where I come from and where a lot of the world comes from.”
Shirine and Kevin slogging up a mountain!
In her ten months on the road - as with anything in life - there comes various lessons that you learn. Shirine’s biggest lesson, she says was that plans always change. Her original plan had been to set out from Nepal and head East, travelling through Asia and eventually reaching Australia. But, now, she plans to head West, back through Europe, all the way back to the US. She says it’s best to “keep an open mind, and see where it goes. Don’t buy your plane ticket too far in advance!”

So, what is next for this cherry-blonde Canadian, after all of her triumphs, trials and tribulations and undoubtedly an experience that she will never forget - what is next?

“I plan to go back through India, actually. And then keep going West through Georgia and Turkey, and Eastern Europe and the Alps through Western Europe and then down through part of Africa, from Spain and Portugal. And down a bit, before I run out of money, ha, and then across the US, then cycling home.”
She has one last piece of advice for anyone aspiring to travel the world…

“Just do it! There’s no planning you need, there’s nothing you need - you’ll learn everything on the road… People will always be there to help you. Just do it, and you know, it’s one of those things that you’ll never regret doing but you’ll always regret it if you don’t start now. So, yeah - anyone who has the idea should just do it! Go buy that bike and start pedaling.”
Not a bad view, eh?

About the Author

Jack Hawkins is a freelance travel writer and touring cyclist. Originally from the UK, he swapped one seaside town for another in 2006, and has been living in Canada for eight years. Jack has always had a fondness for writing and after graduating from Bonar Law Memorial High School in Rexton, Jack decided to pursue a freelance writing career, and implemented his love of cycling into his work shortly after a chance-meeting in 2013 with a fellow Englishman who had cycled across Canada.

Jack currently writes for this webzine, but is also a monthly contributor Mike's Bike Shop's E-Magazine, "The Rider's Edge". He recently worked on and published a series of thirty-one articles for revered bicycle touring guru, Darren Alff, for his website: http://gobicycletouring.com/. Jack also writes articles, journals, gear reviews, and interview pieces for his own website - http://jackonabike.ca/.